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Gems from "Jewish Medical Law"


May 06, 2007

In "Judaism's Culture of Death," I pointed out that the punchline of a well-known Jewish joke about the Jewish holidays would more accurately be rendered as "We killed them. Let's eat." My point was that at the heart of the narratives of Purim, Passover, and Hanukkah are the deaths of many non-Jews and that this culture of death is related to the violence of Zionism.

In my "Response to M.," I quoted the late Israel Shahak:
The existence of an important component of Israeli policy, which is based on "Jewish ideology," makes its analysis politically imperative. This ideology is, in turn based on the attitudes of historic Judaism to non-Jews ... Those attitudes necessarily influence many Jews, consciously or unconsciously. Our task here is to discuss historic Judaism in real terms.
Although the struggle against antisemitism (and of all other forms of racism) should never cease, the struggle against Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism, which must include a critique of classical Judaism, is now of equal or greater importance [emphasis added].
Today, I propose to discuss evidence of "Jewish chauvinism and exclusivism" in "classical Judaism" that is much more recent than the narratives of Jewish holidays but which has its roots in those ancient texts and related ideas. This source comes to me from Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years by Israel Shahak. Because I found Shahak's arguments so hard to believe when I first read them about three years ago, I obtained a copy of the actual book discussed below.

According to Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda
Waldenberg, Jewish Medical Law (Jerusalem and Anaheim, CA: Gefen, 1980) represents "the essence of the medically pertinent halakhic decisions that are dispersed among the thirteen volumes of my responsa texts entitled Tzitz Eliezer and my other books which the Almighty has graciously assisted me in writing and publishing" (p. vii). Jewish Medical Law (JML) was edited by Avraham Steinberg, M.D. and personally approved by Waldenberg.

Until his death last year, Rabbi Waldenberg was a leading Orthodox authority on halakhah, i.e. Jewish religious law, specializing in medical questions. He was a judge on the Israeli government-sponsored High Rabbinical Court and Rabbi of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. In the "Overview" section of JML we learn that "In the field of medicine and halakhah, Rabbi Waldenberg has published more responsa and articles than any other halakhic authority" and he was awarded many honors, including the Israel Prize for Torah literature (pp. 18-19).

So, having established that Rabbi Waldenberg was well within the mainstream of Judaic thought and Israeli society let's see what he has to say about Jewish medical law and how it applies to non-Jews. First, we return to Dr. Steinberg's "Overview" to learn that "It is a mitzvah, namely the physician's Biblical obligation, to heal Jewish patients." The reason for the inclusion of the modifier "Jewish" will become clearer as we go through JML.

The following quotes come from "Part II. The Sabbath" of JML:
[10] It is forbidden to delay the desecration of the Sabbath in instances of danger to life ...

[11] ... the Jewish physician should not refrain from desecrating the Sabbath in such circumstances [when a Jew's life is in danger] (p. 30)

... [18] According to the ruling stated in the Talmud and Codes of Jewish Law, it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbath--whether violating Biblical or rabbinic law--in order to save the life of a dangerously ill gentile patient. It is also forbidden to deliver the baby of a gentile woman on the Sabbath. (p. 41)
Got that? If you're Jewish and have a life-threatening condition then your Jewish doctor is commanded to violate the Sabbath to care for you but if you're not a Jew then, according to Jewish law, your Jewish doctor is forbidden to care for you on the Sabbath even if your life is in danger.

But wait. "[19] However, today it is permitted to desecrate the Sabbath on behalf of a gentile ..." And, why is that? It's not because non-Jewish lives are of equal value with Jewish lives. Oh, no. The reason stated in the rest of paragraph 19 is "... for by so doing one prevents ill feelings from arising between Jew and gentile." Doc, take care of that sick Gentile on the Sabbath because, well, it's good for the Jews. To amplify this point, I quote from paragraph 21:
In order to avoid any transgression of the law, there is a legally acceptable method of rendering treatment on behalf of a gentile patient even when dealing with violation of Biblical law. It is suggested that at the time that the physician is providing the necessary care, his intentions should not primarily be to cure the patient, but to protect himself and the Jewish people from accusations of religious discrimination and severe retaliation that may endanger him in particular and the Jewish people in general. With this intention, any act on the physician's part becomes "an act whose actual outcome is not its primary purpose" (melakhah sheeinah tzerikhah legufa) ... (pp. 41-42)
There, does that make you Gentiles feel better about your observant Jewish physician? If anyone knows of any parallel to this in the contemporary religious law of other religions then please feel free to apprise me of it.

Some Zionists like to brag about how multicultural/multiethnic Judaism and Israel are. What they don't know or don't speak about is the fact that many non-European Jews are religiously suspect and subject to discrimination in Israel. Concerning Jews from India, Ethiopia, and Portugal, JML says:
[14] It is permitted to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save the life of a member of the sect called B'net Yisrael [or Yehudim Chavashim or Shomrei Shabbath], for they may be Jewish. This applies on the condition that they are Torah and Sabbath observant. If, however, they behave like Karaites and deride Jewish belief, it is forbidden to desecrate the Sabbath on their behalf. (p. 40)
In other words, let 'em suffer or die if they don't meet the religious tests. These, of course, do not apply to non-observant Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.

Moving right along, in Part II, Chapter 7 of JML we learn that "Eating kosher food cooked by a gentile was prohibited by rabbinic decree in order to prevent Jews from socializing with their gentile neighbors, thus deterring intermarriage" (p. 61). In the same section, it is explained that if a Gentile cooks for a Jewish patient on the Sabbath then the cooking utensils are tref, i.e. ritually unclean, for 24 hours unless they are immersed in boiling water (pp. 61-62). If a Jew did the food preparation then no immersion or waiting period is required (p. 62).

Now, let's talk money. An "observant physician may not want to accept payment for services rendered on the Sabbath" and he is permitted to decline payment (p. 73). Except, "It is forbidden for a physician to benefit from the Sabbath fee of a gentile patient. He should either destroy the money ... or give it to charity. Under no circumstances should he treat gentile patients for free on the Sabbath" (p. 73).

The focus of this post is on the racism or chauvinism in Judaism but in Part IV, Chapter 1 of JML we learn a bit about sexism in "classical Judaism:"
[1] A woman is forbidden to use contraceptive measures without the consent of her husband.

[2] If the husband has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation and his wife may not become pregnant because of danger to her health, he should divorce his wife rather than permit her to use contraception. (p. 94)
Part IV, chapter 2 of JML says that abortion is permissible when the pregnancy is life-threatening or just detrimental to the health of the Jewish mother-to-be, or if the Jewish mother-to-be is still nursing another child. Provided, the abortion is carried out within the first three months of pregnancy (pp. 102-104). Certain eugenic abortions, however, are permitted for Jewish women "up to the seventh month of pregnancy" (p. 103).

The only permissible reason for a "gentile woman" to have an abortion is if "there is a life-threatening danger to the mother" (pp. 104-105). In all instances, the "consent of the husband" should be "procure[d]" and a "Jewish physician is preferable to a gentile physician." Mordechai Halperin, M.D., of the above-mentioned Shaare Zedek Medical Center, suggests that the penalty, under Noahide law, for Gentiles who perform abortions is death.

Semen donors and physician who use donated semen "are violating the severe prohibition against masturbation" (p. 106) but "Artificial insemination performed with semen from a gentile donor is a greater desecration of Jewish morality than artificial insemination performed with semen donated by a Jew" (p. 107). In fact, "There exists the possibility that [the use of semen donated by a Gentile] would permanently proscribe sexual relations between husband and wife" (p. 107). A child which results from artificial insemination using semen from a Gentile "is a pagum (literally, blemished)" (p. 108).

So, there you have it: Jewish medical law in all its glory. Now, I don't believe that most American Jewish physicians know about, let alone adhere, to these rules. The point, though, is that these are not ancient, fringe texts. These rules were derived from Torah, in its broadest sense, by a leading, mainstream Rabbi in the Jewish state where "Orthodoxy is the only movement that is formally and legally recognized ..." The concern is that, to quote Israel Shahak, these rules reflect "the attitudes of historic Judaism to non-Jews ... Those attitudes necessarily influence many Jews, consciously or unconsciously" and from such racism sprang Zionism.


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